Sunday, July 19, 2015

why do people optimize for deathbed

I often hear people say to each other, "Don't work too hard.  No one says on their deathbed that they wish they had worked harder."

I'm sure that's true about deathbeds.  But I bet students who slacked during college wish they'd worked harder, when job hunting season comes around.  I bet plenty of people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s look at their friends with more satisfying jobs and greater financial security, and wish they'd worker harder themselves.

Why do people optimize for the one moment of the deathbed?  You should optimize for the 80 years that you're living, not the final 12 hours that you're dying.

I also hear people complaining about all the ways they're unhappy about their marriage or family, and then they say, "But at least I'll have somebody at my deathbed, so I won't be dying alone."  By the time you get to your deathbed, it's basically Game Over, so why spend any effort improving it?  

10 comments:

Piaw Na said...

Because of the peak-end rule: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak%E2%80%93end_rule

Joanna said...

Niniane, I want to invite you to come to Kannon Do, a beautiful zen meditation center in Mountain View this Saturday. there will be a special workshop on creating rituals and beauty at home!

lahosken said...

New life goal: Just to find an exception to this excellent thesis, I'm going to keep procrastinating on making my Living Will.

Niniane said...

@lahosken: Haha, good point. Everyone should make a living will.

@Joanna: thanks for the invite, but Mountain View is so far away from SF!

@piaw: The dead person won't be around to appreciate the peak-end!

Joanna said...

Because on the death bed, everyone essentially arrive at the same fate - death. It doesn't matter whether you're Steve Jobs or the homeless bum. It doesn't matter.

In a way, the strives of Silicon Valley or San Francisco seems a big hoopla about nothing.

The president will die. The pauper will die. Everyone will arrive at the same place. Elon Musk will die. The nameless New York taxi driver will die. You, me, he, she, they, we - everyone - will die.

Looking at this at middle age or even later years is not the same as looking at this on the death bed, where it really doesn't matter anymore, like about how much you've worked, how much you've earned, how successful you were, how many goals you've hit, how many places you've travelled, how comfortable or not comfortable you are, how happy you are, etc. You are going to die. Most of all, what others think of you. What do you care?

All these things matter a great deal in middle age or elderly age. And they matter.

Anonymous said...

I think it is because people fear death much more than any other misfortune such as financial hardship or difficulty finding a job. To minimize their overall level of fear, they assign correspondingly great importance to minimizing the unpleasantness of their future death.

Niniane said...

Wow, Anonymous@7/23, I've never considered that possibility. How did you come to that hypothesis? It's hard to believe that people would really spend all that effort reducing the unpleasantness of death, but it's possible! Do you have any facts that support this theory? My mind is slightly blown by this theory.

Anonymous said...

Extreme fear of death is a very natural instinct. Even creatures without the thinking capacity to have a concept of mortality will become extremely agitated if they sense that their life is in danger.

When you consider that a large proportion of people in the world lead their whole lives in an attempt to optimize their putative experience after death, it's not surprising that many people also place a lot of importance on minimizing the imagined awfulness of their dying moments.

M.S. said...

I suspect people mostly fear the pain associated with death and end-stage disease (and leaving their loved ones behind) but not act of death itself. You have to wonder if death is even a differentiable state. I'll explain...

An odd thought experiment: Imagine a near-perfect sensory deprivation chamber. When you are lying inside of it, awake, you are only aware of being conscious. No physical sensations associated with your body or the external world are present. It is no longer possible to mark the relative passage of time. When your brain needs to sleep, your awareness fades away and hopefully returns after some undetermined (and undeterminable) amount of time. Perhaps you dreamed, perhaps not. If you should die inside the chamber, your awareness would also fade away and... simply never return. There would be no experiential difference between the passage to sleep or to death (infinite sleep, sans dreaming). When you are not conscious, you could be occupying either state... but it is of no consequence; you are not suffering and you have nothing at all to fear. Most people enjoy letting go of consciousness in the nightly transition to sleep. Pain aside, I have no reason to think that death will be any different...


Cheers,
Marianne Stokes

Anonymous said...

"Don't work too hard. No one says on their deathbed that they wish they had worked harder."

this statement likely holds many meanings depending on what your goals in life are aligned with or which lens a person is using to see the world.

for instance, does this statement feel more valid if you were working towards someone else's goals versus working for yourself?

perhaps the concept of whether you worked hard or not isn't as important as how events balanced out in what you did with your life. how did your existence influence or contribute to the world is likely something you'll be thinking about on the deathbed.

what about people that have near death experiences or someone that only lived a short life? they might have an interesting perspective on this topic.

-J